For the uninitiated, the Uncharted series follows the story of adventurer Nathan Drake and his motley crew of friends and foes on various quests for gold and glory. With four main installments and a few spinoff chapters, the franchise has provided its fair share of thrills over the years. Nathan’s globetrotting has led him to some places that not even the well-traveled hero could have expected.
Taking its cues from high adventure films like the Indiana Jones series, Uncharted has occasionally veered into some pretty creepy territory, bringing our dashing hero into contact with genuine monsters and calamities beyond the scope of the natural order of things. Along with those terrors, there are also quite a few oddities lurking around, including some particularly strange glitches and Easter eggs that add just a touch more darkness to Naughty Dog’s world.
For those of you who haven’t completed all of Nathan Drake’s adventures: beware of spoilers ahead. For the rest of you, let’s open up this lost tomb and see what kind of creepiness is waiting within.
The Last of Us connections – Uncharted 3 & 4
The Last of Us tells the tale of a world overrun by a zombie-like plague that is spread through a parasitic fungus. One of the scariest things about the story is how much more probable the story feels than other zombie games and movies. Nathan should be a little spooked, then, to find a newspaper in Uncharted 3 featuring the headline, "Scientists are still struggling to understand deadly fungus." That’s a pretty ominous hint toward the story of The Last of Us, which hadn’t yet been released when Uncharted 3 came out. Then, in Uncharted 4, one of the many collectible treasures Nathan can stumble upon is a pendant that bears the unmistakable logo of the Fireflies, a band of revolutionaries and scientists from The Last of Us universe.
Sure, these are just sly Easter eggs on the part of Naughty Dog, who developed both franchises. There’s no real indication that the games take place in the same world. Then again, for the more conspiracy-minded players out there, it could mean that Nathan and Elena’s happy ending won’t stay that way for too long.
The mummy bombs of Libertalia – Uncharted 4
While searching for the lost pirate colony of Libertalia, Nathan Drake and his cohorts come to learn that Captain Henry Avery, one of the founders of Libertalia, was a pretty bad guy. Pirates and adventurers came from the world over to seek out Libertalia, only to find it was an elaborate trap. Avery and his men slaughtered these unlucky crews and looted their ships. Though the greed of Libertalia’s founders eventually caused them to turn on one another, Avery managed to set up plenty of morbid traps before his demise.
The most prominent of these traps may be the mummy bombs. In easily the creepiest scene in Uncharted 4, Avery left behind dozens of his enemies’ bodies twisted into directional signs and various other horrid decorations. The others were tied to posts and filled with gunpowder, their mummified corpses used as human-sized bombs. These would be set off if anyone came too close to them, which meant (if you think about it) that Avery knew the mere sight of a dead body wouldn’t be enough to ward off would-be thieves. No, he had to go the extra mile and weaponize these poor souls.
The many, many deaths of Nathan Drake
Nathan Drake is a lucky guy. Sure, not everything goes according to plan for the daring explorer, but it’s nothing short of a miracle that he’s been able to wriggle his way out of so many death traps and firefights. Then again, players can see what happens when he doesn’t, thanks to some truly gruesome death animations sprinkled throughout the series.
For one particularly intense example, let’s take a look at a scene from Uncharted 2. A trap has been triggered that brings a ceiling full of spikes down on Nathan and his partner Chloe. If Nathan shoots out the gears operating the trap, then he and Chloe will be able to escape. If not, players are treated to the screen cutting to black, with a horrific squishing sound accompanying our heroes’ desperate screams.
Or how about the flashback sequences of Uncharted 4, which show a young Nathan Drake who is already fairly adept at the kind of acrobatic free-running his adult self would get into all the time? If players don’t time some of their jumps just right, they’ll be treated to seeing the actual onscreen death of a child, which many games wouldn’t dare show.
The Waste Land – Uncharted 3
The events of Uncharted 3 see Nathan in some pretty dire straits. At one point, he is left wandering aimlessly through the desert. As he stumbles around, growing progressively weaker, Nathan begins to hallucinate. He hears the game’s antagonist, Katherine Marlowe, speaking to him. While it may seem like he’s simply hearing a rather flowery monologue, the specter of Marlowe is, in fact, quoting T.S. Eliot’s "The Waste Land."
A five part poem, "The Waste Land" is a meditation on the futility of war and the suffering that comes from it, as well as a clear and plaintive call for peace. Some lines of the poem can be taken literally in this instance, with the narrator crying out for water in a desert. Even without the very obvious symbolism, the poem is a eerily close parallel for Drake’s own near death experience and his struggle with leaving his life of conflict behind. Though Drake eventually makes it out of these wastelands, his fight is far from over.
The lonely start screen – Uncharted 4
Much like the adventure films that the Uncharted series has been inspired by, each of the games has featured a rollicking musical score. In fact, the first three games in the series featured a piece of music called "Nate’s Theme" over their title screens. "Nate’s Theme" feels like the opening of a grand adventure, the start of something both treacherous and glorious. It gets players immediately hyped to jump into Nathan Drake’s latest exploits.
Standing in stark contrast to these rousing start screens is the one that kicks off Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Not only is there no title on the screen, but there’s no music, either. Players are greeted with the lonely shot of a long-dead pirate and no sounds but the distant crashing of waves and the slight creaking of the cage where this man met his end. In many ways, it gives players a heads up that this will be a different kind of story. Coupled with the game’s ominous subtitle, this screen really made it feel like this was the end for Nathan — and that it may not be a good one.
Multiple unfortunate kidnap victims – Uncharted: Golden Abyss
The portable spinoff Uncharted: Golden Abyss contains several mysteries that can be uncovered by finding hidden clues. The most unnerving of these is "Proof of Life." The clues in this mystery consist of various items left behind by kidnap victims, as well as the odd ransom note. These people had been taken by Golden Abyss antagonist Roberto Guerro and used to gain funds for his private army of drug-runners and smugglers.
The worst thing about these clues is how inconclusive some of them are, painting a very dark picture during Nathan’s search. Many of these poor victims didn’t make it back home, even if their ransom was paid. Among the victims are a few recent high school graduates, a businessman and his wife, and several people who were just on vacation when they were taken. It’s grim, especially when one considers that these are just the pieces that were found. If Guerro had been doing this for years, then there’s really no telling how many poor souls were taken over the years.
Precursor Orbs and ancient aliens – Uncharted: Golden Abyss
There are plenty of hidden treasures strewn about the jungles and temples of the Uncharted games, but there’s one artifact in particular that deserves some extra attention. We’re referring to the Strange Relics, which appear as golden eggs with markings all over them. For eagle-eyed fans, these look exactly like the Precursor orbs from Naughty Dog’s Jak & Daxter series. That’s just some Easter egg, right?
We get a little bit more information as to the true nature of these relics in Uncharted: Golden Abyss, where the entry in Nathan’s journal reads, "Precursor Orbs are mysterious objects which remain enigmatic even today. The Ancients were rumored to use them to defy gravity. Proponents of ‘Ancient Astronaut’ theories believe they are depleted power cells." That’s right, not only are they confirmed to be Precursor Orbs, but they point to the existence of bona fide aliens in the Uncharted universe. Sure, Drake has seen his fair share of Nazi zombies and ancient psychedelics in his time, but throwing an extraterrestrial artifact into the background of the series is just wild. It makes you wonder what else is out there for him to find.
The gravity of the situation – Uncharted 4
Though it was the final main installment of the series (for now), players who completed Uncharted 4 were treated to several new options that modified the game and greatly increased its replay value. Some of these were purely aesthetic, such as one that changed the color scheme to an acid trip. There were also a few that altered your gameplay, like a modifier that gave you infinite ammo or slowed down time while you aimed your weapon. However, there’s one modifier that made the game downright eerie.
Look, Nathan Drake kills a lot of people. It’s just a fact of these games that he has to mow down wave after wave of mercenaries and pirates to save the world from whatever ancient terror is being unearthed this time. However, when using the modifier for Uncharted 4 that removes gravity from the map, it becomes clear just how many dudes Nathan Drake has sent to their maker. The absurd body count becomes infinitely more surreal when you can watch said bodies floating on up to the heavens.
Elena’s imaginary husband – Uncharted 4
Nathan and Elena’s love story doesn’t go smoothly from the start. The pair find themselves estranged due to Nathan’s reckless nature before the events of Uncharted 3, but they manage to work things out. When we join them in Uncharted 4, they’ve settled into a quiet life of domestic bliss. One of the sweetest aspects of the game is the sequence showing them at home together, happy and comfortable at last. Well, usually.
As explained by the now defunct Geek.com, "As humanizing and heartfelt as the scene is, it plays very differently when Nathan Drake is rendered invisible." That’s right; thanks to an occasional glitch, Nathan himself will be invisible during these sequences. It’s hilarious, but it gets pretty eerie when Elena starts to cozy up to someone only she can see. It’s almost like this scene exists in a version of the game where Nathan died during his last adventure and Elena simply never came to terms with it. It’s genuinely unsettling in those terms, but also oddly comical.
Good luck, followed by horror – Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
To be honest, the Uncharted series has never been as stingy with its ammunition drops as, say, the Resident Evil series. That’s pretty much keeping in line with the whole "action adventure movie" aesthetic of the franchise. Still, it’s not often that you find a ton of ammo in one place, just waiting for you to stock up.
However, in the first game, the second you step into a certain room in the old Nazi bunker and notice that there’s machine gun ammo everywhere, it really should get your heart rate going. The room is dark, but you can still see gleaming weapons littering the floor. You make your way to the other side of the room, picking up tons of ammo as you go. When you reach the hallway on the other side, something inhuman leaps out of the darkness, headed straight for you.
It’s one of the scariest moments of the entire franchise, but it’s made even better by the preceding moments. You know something is coming; that much ammo can only mean a fight is inbound. But until it rears its ugly head, all you’re left with is darkness and a ton of bullets.
The living cave – Uncharted 2
Like the first game in the series, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves takes it sweet time before revealing the more paranormal aspects of the story. The way it does, though, is a masterclass in jump scares. While Nathan and his guide make their way through a series of frozen caves, they keep coming across a pack of wolves, who seem disturbed by something other than their human visitors. Along the way, they find a few mangled human corpses, which just generally makes things more uneasy.
After finally catching up to the wolves and finding a few of them freshly killed, our heroes move on. As they make their way up a cliff face, the camera pans back to the wall of the cave … which then opens its eyes. What players were led to believe was a normal stalagmite is, in fact, some kind of creature. It’s a very quick moment, but it ratchets up the tension. Even Nathan isn’t sure what he just heard behind him. It lets the player in on a terrifying secret, moments before our hero has to deal with it.
Ubar’s true downfall – Uncharted 3
The first two Uncharted games contained a few otherworldly elements that took players by surprise. The first game featured a virus that turned men into monsters resembling zombies, while the second game featured the hulking Guardians of Shambhala, which likewise were human before being exposed to the sap of the Tree of Life.
Though Uncharted 3 flirts with the idea of introducing supernatural elements (the legends behind the lost city of Ubar say that it was destroyed by a demon uprising), the final reveals of the game paint a much more sinister picture. Rather than bringing out more late-game monsters for Nathan to outgun, Uncharted 3 reveals that the people of the lost city were, in fact, exposed to a powerful hallucinogen. As a result, the entire populace went mad, killing one another and burning the city. It may not be an in your face scare like Nazi zombies, but the fate of the Atlantis of the Sands is a much more realistic and chilling scenario.